Food author Michael Pollan speaks about new book

Published on Wed, Jan 20, 2010 by Tara Nelson

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When factoring in the real cost of what’s on your plate, the realities are often hard to digest.

That was the message from New York Times food writer and award-winning author Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma) who spoke to a packed house at Western Washington University last week. 

Consider this, for example: The Double Quarter Pounder hamburger from McDonald’s takes an estimated 26 ounces of oil to produce in the form of oil and gas for tractors used in farming, and fuel used to ship meat around the world resulting in an average of 3,000 miles and nearly 13 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per burger.

So what’s one to do? In an age where calorie-for-calorie fast, processed food is often cheaper than produce, eating healthy and ethically seems to be an uphill battle. It may be cost effective for low-income people to eat cheaply but when you factor in the $500 billion this country spends treating the side effects of the American diet,  it’s not a happy meal.

To make things more complicated, eating healthy is no easy feat when faced with choices such as Omega-3 fortified eggs or cage free eggs; organic steak from New Zealand or pasture-raised steak from a local farm down the road.
Pollan, however, says don’t give up hope.

Such is the premise of his newest book “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.” In 139 pages, this short reference guide provides tips on avoiding overprocessed food, unnatural additives (See: “Don’t Eat Anything Your Grandmother Wouldn’t Recognize As Food”) and enjoying food as it has traditionally been consumed as a means of community, family, ritual and simple pleasure rather than just fueling up.

Although much of the material is borrowed from Pollan’s previous book “In Defense of Food,” it provides quick and accessible information for those who don’t want to sift through pages of scientific research on the way the deadly strain of E.coli 0157 virus is harbored in the stomachs of cattle that are fed a mostly grain diet.

But beyond radical changes at the policy level, there are simple ways consumers can modify their shopping choices to start eating healthy and ethically:

• Vote with your fork. Consumers can do this by buying locally-grown produce from farmer’s markets or through community supported agriculture programs (CSAs) in which farmers are given a direct payment upfront for a weekly produce subscription.

• Plant a garden. Not only does homegrown food taste better and fresher but a $70 initial investment can produce $600 worth of produce during a growing season, he said.

• Cook your own meals. Pollan said the only way to ensure your food hasn’t been tainted with flavor enhancing food-like substances is to make it yourself.

• Eat less. Forget low-carb and low-fat diets and simply eat less. Pollan referenced a saying in Okinawa, Japan, “Hara Hachi Bu,”  which instructs people to eat until they are just 80 percent full.

Food Rules is available at Village Books (1200 11th Street, Bellingham, WA 98225) and online or by visiting